« ForrigeFortsæt »
are more easily and more readily brought into compliance with the principles of religion, and are more capable of receiving impressions in favour of them. It is true that they may also be more capable of being bent in the wrong as well as in the right direction, and of more readily receiving bad as well as good impressions; but we are not to overlook the wisdom and goodness of a Divine provision because it may be abused and perverted. Their greater susceptibility should certainly make the young more careful as to the origin and nature of the impressions they receive; but it should remind them of the duty and benefit of becoming early and earnestly impressed with such principles only as are calculated to be the guides and the supports of their future years. No principles but those of religion can do this. Religion has the promise of this life as well as of that which is to come. If it do not secure all that the natural mind may desire of worldly wealth and power, it will far more than give compensation in the satisfaction of mind which it will afford. The world cannot satisfy any of our natural desires fully, because it never can supply all that they demand ; but religion can satisfy them all, because it has the power of limiting them to what is easily attainable ; and even when what is aimed at cannot be attained, it has the power, when the world has not, of producing resignation and contentment. Religion is, therefore, our best friend, both in prosperity and adversity, and in all periods as well as in all conditions of life. That is our best friend which leads us to the greatest good, and provides us with the greatest happiness; and the good and the happiness of religion are, unlike those of the world, both present and prospective. It may be the guide and delight of youth as much as it may be the support and comfort of old age. Let religion, then, be the object of your choice, and it will prove itself “more precious than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb." Moreover, by the truths of religion are the Lord's children warned, and in keeping of them there is great reward.
GOD'S IMPARTIAL GOODNESS TO MEN AN ARGUMENT FOR THEIR IMPARTIAL GOODNESS TO EACH OTHER.
The perfection of the Divine character as displayed in creation, and as revealed in the Word, is one of the very highest and noblest truths that man can possess and employ for his own improvement.
It furnishes a pattern to which we can continually look, and which we can admire with growing ardour, and imitate with increasing advantage. We know, indeed, that God is infinite, and that we, as finite beings, can never be more than faint images of Him as the perfection of wisdom and goodness. But this consideration has nothing of discouragement in it; it is rather calculated to cheer and incite us. Knowing that we never can be absolutely perfect, so do we know that we are not required to aim at anything like being absolute perfection; but that our nature necessitates what our happiness requires, that we should “ go on unto perfection," seeing through eternity more in the Lord to adore and to imitate.
The Divine character comprehends all perfections infinitely. It is useful, however, to single out some one perfection of the character of God on which to fix our attention, for the practical purpose of applying our knowledge of Him to ourselves, that we may see where and what to imitate. In the Lord's Sermon on the Mount, He singles out the impartiality of the Divine love, as a means of enforcing, by the highest possible example, the Christian duty of loving all men universally, and of loving all around us individually, whether they are friends or enemies, whether they are good or evil. As the God of nature, He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. Although this is a natural truth, it teaches us more than a natural lesson.
There are two different aspects in which the Divine Being may be regarded as the Ruler of the present world. He governs the world physically, and He governs it morally. His physical government, also, has a moral as well as a natural purpose, since this world exists for the sake of another, and the temporal life of man for the sake of another that is eternal. It may be assumed, therefore, that the Lord's physical government of the world has a view to the final cause of creation, which is the spiritual and eternal happiness of man. In the physical government of the world, we may therefore see the moral character of the Deity displayed as well as imaged. In causing His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, we may see the principle on which the Almighty acts towards His creatures; for as we may look through nature up to the God of nature, we may look through God's natural up to His moral and spiritual government. Our Lord speaks, therefore, of the physical government as including a moral principle and teaching a moral lesson. In dispensing the natural blessings of sunshine and rain to the good and evil without distinction, the distinction of men into good and evil is not forgotton. The perfection of the Divine character is displayed in the Lord regarding that distinction, and yet in showing His love and beneficence as much as if He did not regard it. There would be no Divine principle involved, no moral lesson conveyed, if God took no cognizance of the different and opposite characters of those to whom He dispensed His favours. It is only because He taketh knowledge of the states of
His creatures, that the Divine character is to be admired for its impartial goodness. Not only is the Lord liberal to the grateful and the good, but He is kind even to the unthankful and to the evil. To all He giveth liberally, and upbraideth not. “ His tender mercies are over all His works,"—and all men are the work of God considered as the creatures of his hand; brought into existence by His creative power, they are all alike the objects of His conservative care and of His loving-kindness. The great blessings of temporal life are supplied to all without distinction, so far as the Divine Being is concerned. The sun that gladdens us, the showers that refresh us, the air that invigorates us, the earth that supports us, all are given unto the sons of men without regard to the distinction of evil and good, of just and unjust.
What does this teach us? It is useful to call such reflections as these
up before our mind, that we may catch something of the spirit of love and kindness towards our fellow-creatures which it is calculated to inspire, and to keep or drive away those gloomy and severe thoughts respecting the character and dealing of the Most High which the natural state of our minds makes us ready to entertain. Do we not hear among Christians more about the severity of the Divine judgments than the tenderness of the Divine mercy? Are Christians as much disposed to see the Lord's mercy in the daily rising of His sun, as to see His judgments in the rare occurrence of an earthquake or the destructive ravages of a tempest? It is right to view the hand of God in all the events of history and of life ; but it is due to the Divine character and government to distinguish between those which come by the immediate agency of man, and those which are produced by the free operation of the laws of nature; and then, to take even the most simple view of the subject, we shall find reason to conclude that the Divine mercy a thousand times outweighs the Divine severity. In the physical as in the moral government of the world, there is abundant reason to mark the proportion expressed in the declaration, that He visits the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him, while He shows mercy unto the thousandth generation of them that love Him and do His commandments. As the blessings, so do the calamities, that arise out of the free activity of the laws of nature fall upon the evil and upon the good; but still the amount of physical good far transcends that of physical evil; and in both the Divine Being shows Himself free from vindictiveness, and uninfluenced by anger or severity ; for that which men call judgment is but the correction of mercy.
But we may read more than a moral lesson,—we may discern a purely spiritual truth, in the blessings of sunshine and rain. There is a sun
that shines upon the soul as truly as there is one that shines upon
the body; there are dew and showers that descend to refresh and fructify the mind at least as real as those that fall upon the earth. In truth there is an analogy between the worlds of matter and of mind; and the powers and laws of the lower are outward, material expressions of those of the higher. The Lord Himself is the sun of the spiritual and moral world, not figuratively but actually. The light of the Divine Sun shines as really upon the human soul as that of the natural sun does
upon body; and our intellectual discernment is as truly derived from that light as our bodily vision is from the solar light of this world. The heat and light of the Divine Sun are love and wisdom; and every affection that warms the heart, and every perception that enlightens the understanding, are from these alone. This Divine Sun shining from within, and the revealed Word operating from without, are the two powers by which the world is spiritually sustained, and all regeneration, individually and generally, is effected. Equally true and far more important is it that the sunshine and the rain of heaven descend upon the evil and the good, on the just and on the unjust. This is a truth that is more difficult of admission than its relative truth in nature; so at least it would appear. For how else should we ever hear of God withholding his love and his light from men, and cursing them with infatuation and blindness; and on the other hand, of bestowing His light and love on those whom He chooses and at what season He pleases. Is not every season the same to Him who is the same yesterday and for ever, and who knows no variableness neither shadow of turning? He truly is a Sun that kuows no going down, that shines through eternity in its own undiminished brightness. While it was supposed, in accordance with the appearance and with the letter of Scripture, that the natural sun actually rose and set, there was reason to think that the Divine Sun itself was capable of change. Not less appearances of the truth are those Scriptures which declare that the Divine Being hides His face, and turns away from His erring and sinful children ; when yet the real truth is, which is also plainly declared, that it is the sins of men that hide the Divine face from them, and their iniquities that separate between them and their God. It is man that turns away from God; and his sins, like a thick cloud, intercept the rays of that Divine Sun that ever shines, in all its brightness and intensity, into the soul of every buman being, and into all souls without distinction and without partiality. If this were not the case, the universe would return into chaos. The spiritual world is far more extensive, immeasurably grander, and more important than all other worlds united ; that spiritual world into which all the earths in the universe are ever pouring their inhabitants in a mighty living stream that has been flowing without intermission for ages after ages. What are all the inhabited earths in the universe in comparison with this magnificent abode of the countless generations of the children of men! Yet this world has its dark side; but what is the cause—not only the original, but the continued-cause of its partial blackness? Is it not there, as it is here, that night and winter, darkness and cold, are produced by turning away from the Divine Sun, which even there never ceases to send forth its heat and light without change or diminution ? Even the different degrees of light and heat which are received in the heavens are not caused by the source, but by the recipients of life. God is everywhere present, and everywhere the same. If it were not so the universe, spiritual and material, would melt away. If God could be touched with such a feeling as anger;—if the Sun of His love and truth could cease for a moment to shine alike on the evil and on the good in either world, the whole fabric of the universe would be rent to its foundation, and totter to its fall. But, blessed be God! this is impossible; and blessed be that truth which gives the assurance, that He causeth His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust! The worlds were created and are upheld by His infinite love and wisdom, and by the same love and wisdom the world was redeemed; and the same unchangeable attributes are ever active in saving to the uttermost. If there are any who perish for whom Christ died, it is because they will not come unto Him that they may have life. The genuine truths of Scripture place before us the Supreme Object of our love and adoration, as a Being who loves all His creatures with an infinitely intense and unvarying love,—whose attributes are constantly operating to raise all to heaven, and where this cannot be done, to mitigate the wretchedness of those who choose death rather than life, hell rather than heaven; for even to these He is the same merciful and tender Being, and only appears to them to be austere because they themselves regard Him with austerity.
But love and adoration are designed to lead to imitation. It is this use of a true knowledge of God that renders such knowledge so desirable and so precious. To know God practically is to be like Him. Without this, speculative knowledge is of no avail. It is our likeness to God that brings us into conjunction with Him. Likeness connects us with Him, unlikeness separates us from Him. Our salvation or condemnation, our happiness or misery, is simply a question of similitude or dissimilitude with God. The image of God is heaven, the destruction of that image is hell.